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Chris Speed
Adventurous jazz fans may recognize tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed from his front-line partnership with fiery NYC bandleader Tim Berne in the combo Bloodcount. Last year, the young horn player stepped out for the first time to release two fine albums under his own leadership: Yeah No, and the self-titled debut from his quartet Pachora. Though not exactly a forceful or manic improviser (as his surname suggests), Speed can peel the paint from the walls when the music calls for it. More often he focuses on the pure sounds of his instruments -- long sustained tones, evocative atmospheres, bent textures. He also likes to snake through scales, particularly those of the Balkan variety, which brings an Old World hoariness to fresh arrangements of both traditional melodies ("Dever Oro," "Poidushko") and originals ("Scribble Bliss").

Speed thinks compositionally and cooperatively, a virtue no doubt nurtured through his tenure with Berne. Not everyone hears this: The critics of the popular Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD called his playing with Bloodcount "oddly diffident." Yet what may be misinterpreted as timidity is really collaborative tact (a willingness to create space for the other voices in an ensemble). This tasteful and complex approach to music-making serves Speed well in the Yeah No quartet, who appear at the Sweat Shop this weekend. Speed allows each bandmate -- trumpeter Cuong Vu, electric bassist Skuli Sverrisson, and ubiquitous drummer Jim Black -- to take center stage at various times (and not just on the solos) in an excellent demonstration of democratic leadership.

-- Sam Prestianni

Chris Speed appears on Saturday, May 2, at 7:30 and 9 p.m. at the Sweat Shop, 1943 Mission (at 16th Street). Tickets are $5; call 487-1903.

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